A YA author’s nicely written adult debut novel blends historical richness and a fine sense of place to tell the story of a woman’s developing love for her husband—and for his Colorado farmland—over the course of six months in 1944.
In wartime Denver, Olivia Dunne becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with a departing American soldier. With the help of a local church, her father arranges her marriage to Ray Singleton, a beet farmer in faraway La Junta. Olivia’s first days on the isolated farm are awkward, and Ray, a shy, reticent man of good intentions, isn’t very adept at small talk. Precluded from contributing anything useful to the running of the farm, whose harvests are cultivated in part by labor from the local internment camp, Olivia takes long solitary walks. During one of them she meets Rose and Lorelei Umahara, Japanese-Americans from California who have been evacuated to confinement in Colorado. Young, enthusiastic, and passionate about butterfly hunting, the sisters introduce Olivia to the thriving, emotionally rich life of the camp. She keeps her friendship with the girls secret; Ray, whose brother was killed at Pearl Harbor, displays no fondness for the Japanese who work his farm. Creel does a delightful job of evoking first the dreariness of the Singleton farm and Olivia’s unnerving loneliness, then the slow ripening of her affection for Ray, a simple but profoundly kind and gentle man. Rose and Lorelei, meanwhile, hint that they have begun dating a pair of American soldiers, and Olivia drives them to meet the men in secret. But the “soldiers” turn out to be German POWs escaping with the help of the sisters, who make Olivia an unwitting accomplice. The author gives her heroine a satisfying emotional depth, moving Olivia through phases of affection and disappointment with assured confidence before closing with a tranquil scene after the baby is born.
A light, precisely observed novel.